Monday, June 30, 2008

Welcome to Puerto Rico! Side effects may include abdominal bleeding, anemia, black stool, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, constipation, etc.

Taking photos while driving is almost as dangerous as drug marketing!

Oh say can you breathe, by the dawn's indoor/outdoor allergy reliever...

As I approached the bridge from the airport on my first day in Puerto Rico, I saw in the distance flags flapping proudly in the wind. I passed the American flag, a powerful foreshadowing of the strong American influence I would experience in the next 2 months, felt the wind in my hair as I passed the Puerto Rican flag, a symbol of pride for so many, both in the US and the island, and then WTF??!?! A NOVARTIS FLAG?!

That’s right, friends, Novartis. As in the gigantic pharmaceutical company that produces some of our favorite prescription meds, like Gleevec. As in the gigantic pharmaceutical company that sued India after they tried to make cheap versions of cancer, HIV, AIDS, and diabetes medicines for a country that was in dire need. I mean geez, India! Novartis needs money to buy us doctors lunches and pretty pens and clipboards! Who do you think you are?! If you really want to be totally disgusted by Novartis and a few other drug companies, read this article about “cheerleader” drugs reps, but make sure you do it on an empty stomach. And if you’re still up for more, google the term “Novartis and FDA warning letters” and see what you come up with. Here’s another fun story that I originally heard on NPR about a Novartis employee that was fired after reporting safety violations during clinical trials. And what does ex-Pepsi executive turned Novartis pharmaceutical business CEO Thomas Ebeling think about his new job? Well, he thinks selling cola isn't all that different from selling pharmaceuticals. Barf.

Oh and by the way, sorry if this bothers you, Novartis, but maybe you should get your goddamn flags off of Puerto Rico’s bridges, your goddamn bribery out of my profession, and your goddamn psychological manipulation off my patients’ TV screens and then I’ll get off your case.

Anyway, how upsetting?! And it wasn’t just Novartis, but as I saw the first flag and felt my stomach turn, I put my head down.

“You fly drug company flags next to your country’s flag?” I asked my driver.

“Of course. We have a lot of drug companies here,” she answered. I sighed. This was going to be a long 2 months.

How important are pharmaceuticals to Puerto Rico's economy?

According to the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Puerto Rico website, the pharmaceutical industry accounts for 30,000 direct (and allegedly 100,000 indirect) jobs on the island and a mighty 26% of Puerto Rico's employment in manufacturing. That's a lot of manufacturing. The website goes on to say that the average wage for production workers is among the highest salaries paid in Puerto Rico, and that the pharmaceutical industry accounts for a whopping 24% of Puerto Rico's gross domestic product. The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company notes that there are more than 60 pharmaceutical plants on the island, and that in 2003, Puerto Rico was the world's largest international shipper of drugs, with 24.5% of total shipments. 16 of the top 20 drugs sold in the United States are from Puerto Rico. Most of the big pharma boys have some kind of representation in Puerto Rico, and for the most part they are spread around the island, although there are none in San Juan proper (there are a few in Carolina though, maybe I ought to pay them a visit).

Phew, that's a lot of facts.

So why, exactly, do so many drug companies operate out of Puerto Rico?

Maybe they just think that Puerto Ricans are a hardworking people deserving of steady jobs. OR MAYBE there's some ECONOMIC INCENTIVES to moving your big business down to this tiny island?

Let's have a look:

1. First, let's review PIAPR's own description of the incentives of operating out of Puerto Rico. Looks like we're chock full of income tax caps, especially for "pioneer industries" (huh?), something called "super-deductions," accelerated depreciation on building costs, a whole boatload of exemptions, payroll incentives and special deductions, etc.

Basically, because of the weirdness of Puerto Rico's commonwealth status, companies in Puerto Rico get all the good stuff from operating "in the United States," but they also get the tax benefits and incentives of being a "foreign company." Sneaky drug companies!

2. The workers! Here's a real shocker, Puerto Rico has one of the lowest minimum wages in the United States. Even Guam's is higher. True, those in the pharmaceutical industry probably aren't making minimum wage, but they aren't making as much as if the company were operating out of Connecticut. The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company proudly claims on it's website that "wage rates are typically 20% to 30% lower than those on the mainland for the same position." How totally fair! I mean, what a bargain for a bilingual workforce that trails only Japan for the fewest number of work days lost due to labor disputes and that is also well educated (Puerto Rico is currently 9th in the U.S. in terms of engineering degrees awarded).

To recap, the drug companies get an intelligent, bilingual, and hard working workforce who rarely complains, and they get to pay them significantly less.

3. Puerto Rico has been trying to make it very easy for big companies to come down here, allowing for some of the previously mentioned tax incentives and also ensuring adequate technology and communications capabilities.

Summary: Puerto Rico is pretty desparate to improve the economic situation on the island, so they are opening the doors for big corporations. Meanwhile it's hasta la vista, Mom and Pop's lechón stand and Buenos días, Burger King, if you catch my drift.
Not to mention that with the economic slowdown, a few plants have closed down, leaving Puerto Rican families and towns in complete destruction due to their economic dependence on these foreign companies.

4. Puerto Rico's prime location and accessibility by boat or plane makes it an ideal place for shipping drugs worldwide.

No argument here, Puerto Rico is in a pretty sweet spot!

Okay, so it should be very clear to you that I have serious, deep-seeded, some might argue pathological issues with drug companies, which may make this entry seem pretty biased. And I'm okay with that, because it's my blog and I get to be as biased as I want! :P

But in all seriousness, I recognize that bringing jobs to Puerto Rico is an important endeavor, and I am certain that there are many families on the island that benefit greatly from their presence. But I don't think it is fair to exploit Puerto Rico's political situation and especially their workers, who deserve the same respect given to any mainland worker. For all of the things that Puerto Rico gives to them, they ought to be giving back to Puerto Rico. Why don't you save all the money you waste on the ridiculous plastic junk you hand out to doctors and open up some safe parks and playgrounds for Puerto Rican kids? Just a thought.

And Puerto Ricans, get those flags off of your bridges. You have a beautiful culture and a rich heritage, let's display that instead.

Buenas noches.


Ed said...

Ok, so I stumbled upon your blog because I have google deliver email alerts on anything having to do with Puerto Rico whenever it pops up...(I'm Puerto Rican but born and bred in NYC)
You can probably imagine how MORTIFIED I was when I got an email earlier with the title: "Welcome to Puerto Rico! Side effects may include abdominal bleeding, anemia, black stool, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, constipation, etc."
First thought was WOW sounds like someone had a BAD experience down there and I was upset at the heading because it seemed to imply that Puerto Rico caused all those side effects (LOL!)!
Anyhow, long story short, I read your other postings and figured out that that wasn't the case...well i figured that out after reading this posting...but I digress...
I sure hope you continue to have a good experience down there!!!
Ed from NYC

Renee said...

I have a tendency to mortify others. ;) Glad you enjoyed the blog though!

Laura said...

the drug rep at my hospital is really hot. i have a big crush on him. too bad he's the devil :(

Arturo Cofresi said...

I share your passion for wanting pharmaceutical companies to perish. Having being born and bred in this tiny island I can tell you, this is one of the most messed up places you will ever find.
I won't bring all the political issues that back my claim of Puerto Rico being messed up beyond all apparent hope. I will not point out the current mess in our economy either, since you have already listed some of the mayor points. Having seen that flag in the bridges is all you need to know, there is no stronger image that you can find to tell you the current state of Puerto Rico. Want to know whats the most messed up bit of all of this. In my opinion only the diaspora cares about what really happens here, because those that live here, they like to keep things as they are. They have a sweet deal as you said, they will sell out to whoever gives them money, and leave culture hanging in some tree, thank you very much. Those who left the island back in the 40s are pretty much living with a very outdated image of PR, those of us who live here, well we either wish we were not here, or don't give a cent of care, they just huddle and trod along, make a meager existence and only complain when they are the target of the latest "injustice". Like they say "despues que no me toquen las habichuelas no hay problema" as long as they don't mess with my food we got no problems. So those Puerto Rican who live in NYC, keep your peace and your comments and don't assume this is the same place your parents left behind, and as for the flags, we don't care about such things, we fly whichever flag is in style and keep a few other in the trunk just in case the wind blows in some other direction, thank you very much.
Boqueron, PR

Peace, out!